I remember now being inspired earlier in my writing of The Woman in the Window by the idea of glory’s demise. It was a fixation of Europeans following the Napoleonic Wars, and when I discovered it, I suddenly understood a lot of what was going then in literary circles, too. Then I think I forgot this basic insight for a while, and the details of my analysis with all its bits of cleverness eclipsed what was the first, truest insight. Slowly it has been coming back to me lately, as I’ve thought about what a suicide bomber might be most attracted by (glory) and most repelled by (looking ridiculous), and how men — this is a male thing mostly — might find the encroachment of commerce, that oh so calculating prudence-oriented petty-looking activity (from the standpoint of someone inspired by glory) rather a threat.
And today, as I complained to my friend David about the two-faced bean-counting of a certain administrator I am glad to have left behind in a previous chapter of my life, he reminded me of the words of Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the French Revolution:
“It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France. … I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. … Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom [a dagger]; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.”
I am so predictable! This is the woman in the window! I had forgotten, and this makes me both elated and very sad. Such a sexist, anachronistic person I must seem. Even to myself. To have written such a book with such a title. I suppose I need to follow David Hume’s advice upon meeting an insoluble problem in one’s thinking — take a friend to dinner. Where are you, friends?! Ah, yes, that’s why I’m writing blog posts…
This strikes me as related to a problem I’m working through in a novel I’m writing. My narrator, inspired by Boswell, is searching for a modern Dr. Johnson whose life he might dedicate himself to chronicling. He fixates on an up-and-coming author – it’s a college town, and you know the type: A lot of buzz surrounds him; he’s been written of, but oddly any substantial work by him has yet to be published. The “Interesting Man” is a litter of contradictions, inspired by big ideas and romantic myths; perhaps he’s a charlatan, and yet he follows his ideals through to the extent that at least he’s a complete failure as a husband, father, perhaps even as an author. Anyway, there’s a scene I’m sketching that has the narrator settling in to “binge-watch” some cable drama; he has his popcorn waiting, and his wife on the couch. The Interesting Man arrives unannounced at his house. He wants the narrator to deliver a note to the wife of a mutual acquaintance. The intimation is he wants to do something shamelessly romantic – steal the wife away; they might have a history, but in public express dislike for each other. But the narrator – despite his professed desire, to chronicle the man – can think only of his popcorn. My “problem” is how much to read the narrator’s final appraisal of his Interesting Man (he eventually moves on to others) as “not interesting enough” as ironic – the problem with the IM, as concerns the narrator, is he’s too interesting – and how much an honest assessment of this particular writer. I’m looking forward to reading your Woman in a Window, not only as it might give me ideas how to limn this relationship.